After affirming that this is all a secondary issue, MacArthur then back-pedals a bit:
On the other hand, I am firmly convinced that this secondary issue has the very real potential to taint a person’s understanding of the gospel itself. In such cases, it becomes a primary issue. For example, charismatic theology does corrupt the gospel when it expresses itself in the form of the prosperity gospel. Moreover, the global charismatic movement happily shelters other heretical movements – such as Catholic Charismatics and Oneness Pentecostals.
This is where the broad brush first comes out (though it seems to be a recurring theme – and is even excused later in his answers to Challies’ questions). The implication is clear: because continuationism contains incorrect belief systems, it must be rejected wholesale.
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
MacArthur goes on:
Taken together, the number of charismatics who hold to a false form of the gospel (whether it is a gospel of health and wealth or a gospel of works righteousness) number in the hundreds of millions, which means they actually represent the majority of the global charismatic movement.
I will, at least for now, ignore the fact that MacArthur slides back and forth between continuationist and charismatic thought as it best suits his current stance.
More to the point, this statement is simply not provable. In support of similar thoughts, MacArthur’s defenders keep trotting out a bunch of statistics as gathered by the Pew Forum. Let’s look at these statistics, shall we?
Whenever someone is polled, they are given a finite number of choices from which they are able to choose. In the studies of probability and statistics, this is known as a discreet variable. But here’s the problem: no religion (and perhaps, least of all, Christianity) is discreet. I know a man who fits all of the following:
- His beliefs most closely align with the official doctrinal statements of the PCA.
- Yet he believes that paedobaptism is wrong.
- He admits to a bit of Pentecostal blood running through his veins.
- Yet he believes that speaking tongues (even as a private prayer language) is not for today.
- He is a member of a Baptist church, but has also attended non-denominational, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches.
So what box does he check?
I’ll not go so far as to say that the statistics are total malarkey, but it seems less than wise to base one’s approach to an issue on them.
Nuance? We Don't Need No Steenking Nuance!
Later, Challies asks about MacArthur’s response to a book review of Strange Fire that said that his brush was too broad. MacArthur states:
I understand that some reviewers will find my tone too harsh and my brush too broad. But I think the problem is a whole lot bigger than anyone realizes.
Did you catch that? MacArthur does not disagree that his brush is broad; his only quibble is that others think that it’s too broad. But let us dispense with that alarming sentiment, and note that what he is saying here is that because the issue is wide-spread (according to him), any breadth of brush is acceptable. Tell that to a house painter. Just because the exterior may be quite large and all one color does not mean that it is acceptable to paint over the windows, too.
Never Say Never
Renowned atheist Richard Dawkins admitted that he could not disprove the existence of God (nor could anyone else), but had come to the (wrong) conclusion that it was highly improbable. The reason for this is simple. One cannot prove a universal negative – or to be more accurate, a human cannot do so, as no human (or even the entire human race, simultaneously) is omnipresent.
Therapists, counselors, pastors – nearly anyone advising on issues of communication in relationships (marital or otherwise) – tell us that we should not use the terms “never” or “always,” as they are – at best – counterproductive and – in reality – often just silly.
And yet, whether the issue is taken from a purely scientific angle or from that of someone trying to communicate a point (or maybe “sound a trumpet blast”), this concept is foreign to MacArthur. Sometimes the violation of this principle is blatant (emphasis mine).
Though charismatics use biblical terminology to describe their contemporary experiences, nothing about the modern charismatic gifts matches the biblical reality.
Oh, so you’ve interviewed every last charismatic on the face of the earth about every last revelation of every last gift to reach this conclusion? And you’re certain that the interpretation that you were given in all of these interviews was fully accurate?
Sometimes it’s a bit more subtle:
The modern gifts of the charismatic movement simply do not match up to their biblical counterparts.
Is there, like, an official registry somewhere that fully enumerates the “modern gifts of the charismatic movement”?
Whether blatant or subtle, MacArthur repeatedly speaks very specifically with nothing but vague and over-simplified generalities as his alleged evidence.
One Is Simultaneously Too Many and Not Enough
In his defense of the ceasing of the gifts, MacArthur states:
The book of Acts depicts the gift of tongues as producing real human languages (Acts 2:9–11), and nothing in 1 Corinthians redefines tongues as irrational babble.
As much as I would like to engage this idea seriously, I just cannot do so. The false dichotomy that MacArthur gives here could not be clearer. In his view, anything emitted from a human mouth that does not classify as “real human language” must be “irrational babble”. There is no room for anything else. Are we to assume, then, that when Paul spoke of “the tongues of … angels” in 1 Corinthians 13:1, he was really talking about French? Or maybe Croatian?
Sam Storms has noted a number of compelling arguments against the statement that tongues are always human languages. Perhaps the most compelling is that to say so is to attack the accuracy of Scripture:
Paul asserted that whoever speaks in a tongue “does not speak to men, but to God” (1 Cor. 14:2). But if tongues are always human languages, Paul is mistaken, for “speaking to men” is precisely what a human language does!
Scriptural direction for publicly speaking in tongues is that there also is someone present to interpret. Let me repeat the end of that sentence: someone present to interpret. In order for public tongues to be scripturally sound, only one person needs to be able to understand what was said (or, perhaps more accurately, be given understanding). But such definition is not sufficient for MacArthur; by his definition, an entire people group must understand it. An interesting view coming from someone who trumpets the sufficiency of Scripture.